Saturday, June 28, 2014

Brain Overload

As some of my long time readers (aka my family) may note, I often blog less frequently when things in life are not going as peachily as I would have otherwise hoped. That's my diplo-speak for the fact that I'm fighting a few battles right now that are sapping my energy. I love my job. I love representing my country. I love serving my country. I've done it my entire adult life and plan to continue to do so for as long as I am able. But, oh my fucking lord, does the government make it difficult sometimes!!
I mean language training is difficult enough as it is without having to worry about all this administrative bullshit. Let me just say that as much as I don't miss having to deploy, I sure do miss the military logistics system. I am constantly amazed that the State Department is able to accomplish anything with the incredibly poor support offered to its people. That we are able accomplish the things we do is a testament to the talent and sheer force of will of the amazing colleagues I work with.

Anyway, on top of the usual stressors (the House of Pu is a House of Chaos), language training continues to teach me that I am not nearly as smart as I think I am. My fellow language cohort student leaves next week meaning I will be all alone. SO SAD! All of my teachers are incredibly nice people, but one-one language training is exhausting! There's simply no other word for it. It is absolutely mentally draining, and I'm not sure how I'm going to keep it up all summer long.* Luckily I have passed into the point of post-pregnancy normalcy. While N still(!!!!) refuses to sleep through the night,** my body at least is feeling back to normal. That's not to say that it looks exactly normal, my clothes definitely don't fit like they used to, but my weight has returned to its usual set point and my workouts are as crazy as ever. I've taken up running again thanks to the 1/2 price treadmill Husband scored. And of course there's my new fav workout, Butiyoga! Luv, luv, luv, luv, luuuuuv my buti yoga. It's just the right amount of yoga zen that I need mixed with cardio and booty poppin'. Between buti and running I am feeling strong and confident, and I can't tell you how much I need that right now.

*According to our language dept head there will be new students arriving in September so hopefully they'll be able to match someone to my level so I won't have to be one on one forever.
**in spite of teasing us with three nights of full sleep he is definitely back to the 2am wake-up call.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Pregnancy Medevac: Traveling With an Infant

***Okay, so I started this post like a month ago, but I still think this is worthy of posting. Just pretend like it's timely. :)

As I scoured the internet for tips on how to travel with an infant* I rediscovered just how odd of a group we FS folks are. When I tell non-FS friends that I'm about to spend 24+ hours traveling back to the other side of the world with a 7-week old all by myself they all think I'm utterly insane. When I mentioned to my Post bestie that I was nervous about forgetting to pack something vital in my diaper bag, she sympathized, "I know, I remember when I was flying from New York to Bangkok with my newborn and toddler by myself. It was really rough!" Just another FS mom day, hah! Anyway, since it seems like all of the resources on the internet are focused on domestic flying (for example, one of the most common "tips" is to schedule flights for baby's usual nap time. Um, do babies nap for entire days? I wish!), I thought I'd devote at least one blog post to my experience.

One other thing to note is that since my tickets were government purchased, I didn't get a whole lot of say in the itinerary. I suppose I could have tried to go back and forth with my travel office in Manila to get better timing, but I was lucky to get tickets at all considering how long it took my HR Tech to get my son added as my dependent! But, if you're somehow lucky enough to have some flexibility, try to get decent domestic layovers.** I had a 4 and a 1/2 hour layover in Minneapolis. That meant almost 10 hours of travel time before I even got on the 14 hour flight to Tokyo (which was followed by another 3 hour layover and then the 4 hour flight to Manila, ugh!!).

Traveling alone with an infant 3 mos and under is not easy, but IMHO, it is much more do-able than traveling with an older infant or toddler. Tiny babies do sleep a lot, and they are easily distracted with a boob or bottle. They are also relatively immobile, so you're not going to be wrestling them into their car seats or trying to make them sit on your lap during the flight. I can't imagine traveling as long as I did with a lap child, so thank goodness the government recognizes that and pays for the baby's own seat.

Travel Tip #1 - Bring a Car Seat. 1 I definitely recommend taking a car seat on the plane to use as a bassinet (Delta no longer offers the bulkhead bassinet seats for infants, at least on the type of aircraft they fly to Asia). Having a car seat frees up your arms, and gives you a safe place to put your baby when you, say, need to go to the bathroom.
Travel Tip #2 - Get a Travel Boppy. My other favorite travel accessory: a travel boppy! I cannot recommend this enough even if you are not breastfeeding. Having a comfortable pillow on which to rest baby so that you don't have to support their weight continuously with your arms is such a god send when you are about 10 hours into your trip (so imagine how grateful you are at 24 hours in!).
Travel Tip #3 - Bring a Good Quality Nursing Cover. If you are breastfeeding, I also recommend investing in a good quality breastfeeding cover. I cheap-ed out and used a cover I scored for free, which did the job but the material was so flimsy I constantly worried about being exposed when N would kick his feet around. I highly recommend getting a Baby Au Lait cover, which is much sturdier and won't be kicked off easily. Planes are generally quite cool, so no need to worry about the heavy material even if you are headed to a tropical country!
Travel Tip #4 - Formula Travel Packets. Another thing I would highly recommend is getting some of the Enfamil (or other brand) travel packets. Even though I ended up not needing them, if you are traveling alone you never know when baby is going to have a break down, and there's no convenient place to breastfeed if you are stuck in an immigration line. Just having them was enough of a comfort to relieve that stress for me.
Travel Tip #5 - Use a Carrier. Even though I had the stroller/car seat, I brought a carrier anyway, and I am so glad I did. I used a Moby (practice first if you've never used one, it's not exactly intuitive), and it was perfect for walking around the airports during my long layovers. I just piled all my stuff into the stroller and pushed it around! It is also essential for getting through security. It freed up my hands to put all the luggage and stroller/car seat through the scanner without having to disturb the baby.
Travel Tip #6 - Take a Backpack (a good one) and a Diaper Bag. I know I looked ridiculous walking around the airport (and especially getting on the plane!). I had the stroller/car seat, baby carrier, travel boppy, hiking backpack, and massive diaper bag. I was a like a one woman band without the music, but I had everything I could possibly need and it really wasn't all that difficult to tote around. I put the backpack on my back (essential to bring an ergonomic hiking backpack so it sits comfortably and straps around the waist), the travel hoppy went under the stroller, and I hooked the diaper bag to the stroller using...
Travel Tip #7 - Diaper Bag Straps. Don't cheap out, get the diaper bag straps that hook onto the stroller handlebar. You can buy a diaper bag that comes with these or you can buy them separately and attach them. Having my bag hang from the stroller gave me easy, one-handed access to my wallet and other essentials while going through the airport with a baby strapped to my chest. I don't know how I would have finagled it if I had to constantly swing that bag around.
Travel Tip #8 - Reverse Zip Onsies. Dress your baby in a reverse zip onsie like this one from Halo (I got mine from Baby Steals). Trust me, they are worth it! Diaper and outfit changes were so easy, and I never had to worry about him getting poked in the face with the zipper.
Travel Tip #9 - Don't Be An Idiot - Use Your Resources. My flight into Manila got in at 1200am on a Thursday morning. I thought why deal with the hassle of trying to arrange for an airport expediter?*** God am I am idiot because of course there were about a 1,000 people flying into NAIA 1, which was being renovated and therefore funneled everyone into a tight mass of humanity without any aircon or way out. I mean, duh, this is Manila we're talking about. This was the tail end of our long, long journey, We had been traveling for over 35 hours straight, and N was done. He had comfort nursed for almost the entire flight from Tokyo to Manila. I was dead tired having not been able to sleep hardly at all on our flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo, covered in baby drool and spit up, sweaty, and dripping with used baby gear. So when we deplaned and headed into the biggest mass of humanity I have ever seen, N decided to have a complete melt down. He went right from whimpering to cat demon screaming at the top of his little baby lungs, and he didn't stop.for.two.hours. Thank god we were in the Philippines. My fellow detainees gave me sympathetic looks, cooed over his red screaming face, and shook rattles at his tiny, clenched fists. It didn't help much, but I can tell you I would take over involved Filipinos who care over the looks of death you would get in most Western parts of the world. I don't think I could have handled it at that point! At any rate, this little story was just to point out that the Embassy offers you these perks (airport expedite, motor pool, etc.) for a reason. Please use them, even if you don't really think you will need them.

*I know, I know. I've got six gajillion kids, you'd think I have this thing down pat, but it's been a while, ya'll. 
**Long international layovers aren't fabulous, but they at least make more sense since they give you more time to go through customs and immigration. 
***Frankly, I had totally forgotten about this until the last minute, and then I thought why freak out and try to arrange things at the last minute. I mean, how many people could possibly be flying in at midnight on a Thursday...after all this time (and so many flights) you would think I would know something about Manila!

All Things Foreign Service

Useful Links

Yahoo Groups
FS Parents
FS Special Needs
FS Homeschool

Facebook Groups
Trailing Houses
FSO Moms
We Run the World
Balancing Act @ State
FS Borrow - Barter - Sell
DOS Med Clearance

Life After Jerusalem
Email From the Embassy
Consul at Arms II

Resources & References
Table of Posts - Tool to help compare wages at different posts abroad
Tales From a Small Planet - Real Post Reports
Foreign Service Institute (FSI)
Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM)
Foreign Affairs Handbooks (FAH)
Family Liaison Office (FLO)
Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI)

FS - Foreign Service
FSO - Foreign Service Officer
FSS - Foreign Service Specialist
EFM - Eligible Family Member
FSOT - Foreign Service Officer Test
FSOA - Foreign Service Oral Assessment
PNQ - Personal Narrative Questions
ACS - American Citizen Services
IV - Immigrant Visa
NIV - Non-Immigrant Visa
MED - Medical Unit
RMO - Regional Medical Officer

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

So You Want to Join the Foreign Service

So You Want to be an FSO Part 1
So You Want to be an FSO Part 2
So You Want to be an FSO Part 3
My OA Experience
Flag Day

State Department Hiring
FSWE Yahoo Group
FSOA Yahoo Group
A-100 Yahoo Group

Apraxia and All Things Special Needs

My son was diagnosed with Apraxia and SID/SPD at the age of 2 1/2. We had known for some time that there was something different about A. As the youngest of 5 (at that time), it was easy for us to note the differences in his development when compared to the four who came before. He has since been diagnosed with ADHD, Dysgraphia, and Dyslexia (now known as "specific learning disorder in the area of reading"). Having moved to two different states and countries since his first diagnosis, we have become extraordinary familiar with the special needs education system in the U.S. (which varies widely by state) and within the State Department (which offers amazing support - one of the best perks of being an FSO, IMO). I hope this page can offer some assistance to other parents both in understanding what it means to have a special needs child and also in how to best advocate for your special child. You can read about our journey with A (so far) here.

IEP - Individual Education Plan
ST - Speech Therapy/Therapist
OT - Occupational Therapy/Therapist
SID - Sensory Integration Disorder
SPD - Sensory Processing Disorder
PT - Physical Therapy/Therapist
ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder
LD - Learning Disorder
IDEA - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Apraxia Links
What is Apraxia?
The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America (CASANA)
The Cherub Foundation
Apraxia Resources

ADHD Links
What is ADHD?
Parenting a Child With ADHD
ADDitude Magazine
Children and Adults with ADHD
ADD Association
DC ADHD Support Group
Daily Report Card
ADHD Resource List
A Mom's View of ADHD

Dyslexia Links
What is Dyslexia?
The Wilson Program
The Barton Program
Bright Solutions for Dyslexia
Davis Dyslexia
Learning Ally - parent community and dyslexia-specific audiobook resource
Reading From Scratch
The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity
Kurzweil - Literacy software
Don Johnston - Literacy and dyslexia-specific software and products
Homeschooling With Dyslexia
The World of Dyslexia - Informative site for those researching dyslexia. Includes apps for dyslexia, research articles, and IEP information
High Noon Books - High interest/low level books and instructional resources

Dysgraphia Links
What is Dysgraphia?
Handwriting Without Tears
Dysgraphia Resources
Strategies for Dealing with Dysgraphia

US Resources for Special Needs Kids
Virginia IEPs
IEP Process
IEP Step by Step
Wright's Law
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center
DC Capitol Area Branch of IDA
Exceptional Schools Fair
Learning Disabilities Association of America
Northern Virginia ADHD Resources

Overseas Resources for Special Needs Kids
Educators Overseas
Hong Kong Dyslexia Association
International Dyslexia Association

US Department of State Resources for Special Needs Kids
Special Needs Education Allowance - what is covered and what is not
Employee Consultation Services - This is the office to contact if your child needs/qualifies for SNEA
Office of Overseas Schools - The starting point for finding Post schools who can accommodate your child's specific needs
DoS Resources for Parents of Special Needs Kids
FYSF Special Needs Page
FS Special Needs Yahoo Group
DoS Med Clearance FB Group
AAFSW Special Needs FB Group

Other Special Needs Links
What is an IEP?
Smart kids with LD
LD Online
Psychoeducational Testing
The Mom I Would Have Been
Welcome to Holland

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Under Construction

Please forgive the clutter of posts while I reorganize a bit. I'm trying to make the blog more useful (and easier for me to find the things I'm looking for). We'll see how it turns out!

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Busy Bodies

I will never again make promises to blog more frequently because it inevitably means I will be doing the exact opposite. Between babies, teens, and those in between I can barely keep up with daily life much less blog about it! I forgot just how mentally draining language training is. I'm so exhausted when I get home, but I'm just starting job #2! Just to get you all up to date: we joined a pool association (far cheaper than putting the kids in camp for the summer), and signed the kids up for the dive and tennis teams. I figure jumping off a high board into terrifyingly deep water would be just up my crazy son's alley. :) The teams practice daily during the week, so this should keep us pretty busy all summer long.*

We've really been trying to bring back the lessons we learned in the Philippines back to our life in America. We took great advantage of traveling throughout the country and the region when we were overseas, and we are determined to keep that momentum going now that we are back home. After all, America is just as interesting, and there are so many places to visit. Plus, we really want our kids to connect with their heritage while we're here. So I'll try to walk you through the month of May as quickly as I can!

The first two weekends I was back we didn't do much because I was getting over jet lag and the shock of being back in language training! But, the second weekend brought Mother's Day! I chose to take the kids to the Fiesta Asia Street Fair on Saturday (we even found street parking!) and the Leesburg Animal Park (which they enjoyed but I think is a bit overpriced for what you get).

That same weekend we built and painted bird houses for the 3 gajillion birds living in my yard. I missed the sound of birds so much in Manila, but I have to say it didn't take long for me to resent their incredibly loud voices singing to me at 4am! Oh well, I suppose soon enough it will be way too hot to leave the windows open, and I'll be able to enjoy the sweet sound of silence again. And I am not about to complain about the wildlife I have missed so much these last couple of years!

The weekend after that was fair weekend (aka Memorial Day weekend)! While I made sure the kids were aware of the significance of the holiday (in as much as a 6 and 8-yr old can be aware), I am confronted with the difference of how I have raised my children. C was really a military brat. She went to DoD schools, moved from base to base, was surrounded by other kids whose parents were in the military. She really gets the significance of what it means to sacrifice for your country. J&A were so little when I left active duty that their childhoods have been very different. And now N will be raised entirely in the Foreign Service. It is really a unique little parenting experiment we have going on over here! Anyway, back to wrap up!!

For Memorial Day we went to Viva Vienna!, which was really a fabulous little, small town fair. It had a great community feel, very reminiscent of my own childhood going to the Columbia Fair (which has apparently become a larger arts festival) albeit much more expensive. The kids enjoyed riding rides all day long on Saturday and Sunday.** We only stayed a few hours on Saturday, but we spent nearly the entire day there on Sunday. Husband and I laid out on the lawn in the park with N listening to the various bands come through while the other kids ran amok riding rides and sucking down cotton candy and funnel cakes like they would never eat again (I may have downed a funnel cake or two myself, but who's counting?). It was a deliciously fatty couple of days!

To top it all off, on Memorial Day itself we went to the Falls Church Memorial Day parade and fair. We kick started the day with a 3K fun run which we forced our children to endure enjoyed with our kids. Afterwards the kids had a couple pony rides and bouncy castles to conquer (and another funnel cake to eat***), but then we quickly headed off. I think we were finally fair-ed out.

This weekend we kept up the momentum. Saturday, A had his last baseball game of the season. Then we hit the pool for a nice lazy afternoon. I have a feeling I'm going to be saying that a lot this summer! Then today I took a page from my mom's book of child psychology and convinced my kids that field labor is fun! They happily picked me 20lb of strawberries exclaiming joyfully what a great time they were having conducting back breaking labor in the hot sun. Thanks for the tip, Mom! ;) The nicest part for me (besides the 20lb of delicious, juicy strawberries) was that we went to Larriland Farm, which is the same place I went to as a child. It's hardly changed at all, although I think it's bigger. Next up, A's birthday and Father's Day weekend. I'll be lucky if I blog at all in June! :)

*plus it ensures that the kids will be outside playing actively instead of inside playing computer/iPad games!
**I attempted to take the kids to Dinosauria on Sunday (in fact, I paid $10/person), but it was waaaay lamer then the website made it out to be and the kids were quick to suggest we go back to the Vienna fair for a second day!
***stop judging me!